Fighting system created by health-care changes 'totally burned you out,' says retired Winnipeg nurse

A former registered nurse says she retired early in part because of the stress caused by changes to Manitoba's health-care system — and she wouldn't be surprised if others did the same.

RN who worked at Seven Oaks for almost 40 years describes stress, low morale in Manitoba health-care system

Nurses and their supporters rallied at the Manitoba Legislature on May 1, 2019, demanding that the government halt changes to the province's health-care system. A retired nurse from Seven Oaks Hospital says she's worried the changes will lead to the loss of good nurses from the system. (Ian Froese/CBC )

A former registered nurse says she retired early in part because of the stress caused by changes to Manitoba's health-care system — and she wouldn't be surprised if others did the same.

Kardene Campbell retired in June 2018 from the emergency department at Winnipeg's Seven Oaks General Hospital, where she worked for almost 40 years.

"I could see what direction this was going and I knew that it wasn't good," she said.

The province began an overhaul of Manitoba's health-care system in 2017. That included a plan to cut the number of emergency rooms in Winnipeg from six down to three. The ER at Seven Oaks is slated to become an urgent care centre this fall.

But Campbell says she felt it became difficult to properly care for patients even a few years earlier, when the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority turned its focus to decreasing emergency department wait times.

"We're trained to be advocates for our patients," she said.

"After a while it would begin to feel like the patient was a burden — that we just had to rush them through because that was all that was expected.… We could no longer treat these individuals like the human beings that they are."

She said she would express her concerns to management about patient safety, but those were "brushed off."

"After that occurs repeatedly, then it becomes really hard to care for others when you feel that you yourself are not being cared for."

'Toxic' work environment

Last week, 237 Seven Oaks nurses received deletion notices for their current positions in preparation for the hospital's upcoming ER closure. That means their jobs are being cut, but they can apply for new positions needed at the urgent care centre.

The health-care professionals also learned that many of the new positions will include 12-hour rotations rather than eight-hour rotations.

Some of the workers will go through a seniority-based bumping process that starts Monday, which will see employees choose new staff rotations. First choices are offered to senior staff, who can "bump" an employee with less seniority.

The emergency room at Seven Oaks General Hospital in Winnipeg is slated to be converted to an urgent care centre in September 2019. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Campbell says she was never put in a position to bump another nurse, but says she's heard from former colleagues that it has caused extra stress in the workplace.

"There's a lot of hostility among nurses now, which is awful. It's really divided up," she said.

"They describe the environment as toxic.… It is very important in health care to work as a team, and at one time we worked so well as a team."

Shift changes will cause 'brain drain'

The Manitoba Nurses Union has expressed concern over the possibility of nurses leaving Manitoba's health-care system because of changes in the system, including the move from eight-hour rotations to 12-hour rotations at Seven Oaks. That rings true to Campbell.

"One of my former colleagues just resigned last week when she picked up her deletion notice," she said.

"It's going to cause, in my opinion, a significant brain drain because it's some of the most senior nurses who cannot tolerate working in the system anymore that are looking to move outside of the WRHA — and I have that right from their mouths," she said.

"It's not that the new nurses are not good nurses. It's just that in any system like this you need the mentors still to be there, and the mentors have had it."

Kardene Campbell retired last year, in part, she says, due to the changes the province was making to Manitoba's health-care system. (Submitted by Kardene Campbell)

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority told CBC news that employees of the WRHA and Shared Health who need help can access their employee assistance program, which is confidential and available 24/7.

"The well-being of our staff is extremely important, both to our employees as individuals and to us as an organization," the statement read.

The program offers counselling and online educational programs on topics like occupational stress and managing change.

Campbell says she doesn't agree with the changes that the province has made, but more importantly disagrees with how they were made. She says it seemed like important shifts happened all at once, and that staff weren't supported.

"It's kind of like changing a tire without putting the jack on. You have to have the supports in place first and then you make the changes, and none of that happened," she said.

"If I could just go to work and do my nursing I would love my job, but it was always fighting the system that's been created now that just totally burned you out."


Sam Samson


Sam Samson is a senior reporter for CBC News, based in Regina. She's a multimedia journalist who has also worked for CBC in Winnipeg and Sudbury. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email